web counter











THE Indian Empire is (was) the abode of a vast collection of peoples who differ (ed) from one another in physical characteristics, in language, and in culture more widely than the peoples of Europe. Among them the three primary ethnographical divisions of mankind—the Caucasian or white type, with its subdivisions of blonde and dark, the Mongolian or yellow type, and the Ethiopian or black type—are all represented: the first two by various races in the subcontinent itself, and the last by the inhabitants of the Andaman Isles.

Four of the great families of human speech—the Austric, the Tibeto-Chinese, the Dravidian, and the Indo-European—are directly represented among the living languages of India, of which no fewer than two hundred and twenty are recorded in the Census Report for 1911; while a fifth great family, the Semitic, which has been introduced by Muhammadan conquerors in historical times, has, through the medium of Arabic and Persian, greatly modified some of the Indian vernaculars.

The Austric, Tibeto-Chinese, and Indo-European families are widely spread elsewhere over the face of the earth. The Dravidian has not been traced with absolute certainty beyond the limits of the Indian Empire; but there is evidence which seems to indicate that it was introduced into India in prehistoric times.

The drama of Indian history, then, is one in which many peoples of very diverse origin have played their parts. In all ages the fertility and the riches of certain regions, above all the plain of the Ganges, have attracted invaders from the outside world; while overpopulation and the desiccation of the land have given an impulse to the movements of peoples from the adjacent regions of Asia. Thus both the attracting and the expulsive forces which determine migrations have acted in the same direction.

It is true indeed that the civilizations which have been developed in India have reacted, and that Indian religions, Indian literature, and Indian art have spread out of India and produced a deep and far-reaching influence on the countries of Further Asia; but the migrations and the conquests which provided the human energy with which these civilizations were created have invariably come into India from the outside. And the peninsular character of the subcontinent has retained invaders within its borders, with the result that racial conditions have tended to become ever more and more complex. The outcome of the struggle for existence between so many peoples possessing different traditions and different ideals is to be seen in the almost infinite variety of degrees of culture which exists at the present day. Some types of civilization have been progressive; others have remained stationary. So that we now find, at one extreme of the social scale, communities whose members are contributing to the advancement of the literature, science, and art of the twentieth century, and, at the other extreme, tribes still governed by their primitive constitutions, still using the implements and weapons, and still retaining the religious ideas and customs of their remote ancestors in the Stone Age.

The Himalayas form an effective barrier against direct invasions from the north: the exceedingly toilsome passes in their centre are traversed only by a few patient traders or adventurous explorers. But at the western and eastern extremities, river valleys and more practicable mountain passes afford easier means of access. Through these gateways swarms of nomads and conquering armies, from the direction of Persia on the one hand and from the direction of China on the other, have poured into India from time immemorial.

By routes passing through Baluchistan on the west and Afghanistan on the north-west, the country of the Indus has been repeatedly invaded by peoples belonging to the Caucasian race from Western Asia, and by peoples belonging to the Northern or Mongolo-Altaic group of the Mongolian race from Central Asia.

But these immigrations were not all of the same nature, nor did they all produce the same effect on the population of India. In the course of time their character became transformed.

At the most remote period they were slow persistent movements of whole tribes, or collections of tribes, with their women and children, their flocks and herds: at a later date they were little more than organized expeditions of armed men. The former exercised a permanent influence on the racial conditions of the country which they invaded: the influence of the latter was political or social rather than racial.

This change in the nature of invasions was the gradual effect of natural causes. Over large tracts of Asia the climate has changed within the historical period. The rainfall has diminished or ceased; and once fruitful lands have been converted into impassable deserts. Both Iran and Turkestan, the two reservoirs from which the streams of migration flowed into the Indus valley, have been affected by this desiccation of the land. Archaeological investigations in Seistan and in Chinese Turkestan have brought to light the monuments of ancient civilizations which had long ago passed into oblivion. Especially valuable from the historical point of view are the accounts given by Sir Aurel Stein of his wonderful discoveries in Chinese Turkestan. From the chronological evidence, which he has so carefully collected from the documents and monuments discovered, we are enabled to ascertain the dates, at which the various ancient sites were abandoned because of the progressive desiccation during a period of about a thousand years (first century BC to ninth century AD). We may thus realize how it has come to pass that a region which once formed a means of communication not only between China and India, but also between China and Europe, has now become an almost insuperable barrier. The same causes have tended to separate India from Iran. The last irruption which penetrated to Delhi, the heart of India, through the north-western gateway was the Persian expedition of Nadir Shah in 1739.

The routes which lead from the east into the country of the Ganges seem not to have been affected to the same extent by climatic changes. The invaders from this quarter belonged to the Southern group of the Mongolian race, the home of which was probably in N.W. China. They came into India partly from Tibet down the valley of the Brahmaputra, and partly from China through Burma by the Mekong, the Salween, and the Irrawaddy. To other obstacles which impeded their progress were added the dense growth of the jungle and its wild inhabitants. Tribal migrations from these regions can scarcely be said to have ceased altogether even now. But they are held in check by the British occupation of Upper Burma. The movements to the south-west and south of the Kachins, a Tibeto-Burman tribe, from the north of Upper Burma have in recent times afforded an illustration of the nature of these migrations.

Thus have foreign races and foreign civilizations been brought into India, the history of which is in a large measure the story of the struggle between newcomers and the earlier inhabitants. Such invasions may be compared to waves breaking on the shore. Their force becomes less the farther they proceed, and their direction is determined by the obstacles with which they come in contact. The most effective of these obstacles, even when human effort is the direct means of resistance, are the geographical barriers which nature itself has set up. We shall therefore best understand the distribution of races in the sub-continent if we remember its chief natural divisions.

The ranges of the Vindhya system with their almost impenetrable forests have in all ages formed the great dividing line between Northern and Southern India. In early Brahman literature they mark the limits beyond which Aryan civilization had not yet penetrated, and at the present day the two great regions which they separate continue to offer the most striking contrasts in racial character, in language, and in social institutions. But the Vindhyas can be passed without difficulty at their western and eastern extremities, where lowlands form connecting links with the plains of the Indus and the Ganges. The coastal regions are therefore transitional. They have been more directly affected by movements from the north than the central plateau of the Deccan.

In Northern India, natural boundaries are marked by the river Indus, by the Thar or Great Desert of Rajputana, and by the sub-Himalayan fringe which is connected on the east with Assam and Burma.

The seven geographical regions thus indicated form the basis for the ethnographical classification of the peoples of India which is now generally accepted. The scheme was propounded by the late Sir Herbert Risley in the Census Report for 1901. Its details are the result of careful measurements and observations extending over many years. It is conveniently summarized in the Imperial Gazetteer from which the descriptions in the following account are quoted. The physical types are here enumerated in an order beginning from the south, instead of from the north-west as in the original scheme:




The species known as Ramapithecus was found in the Siwalik foothills of the northwestern Himalayas. This species believed to be the first in the line of hominids lived some 14 million years ago. Researches have found that a species resembling the Australopithecus lived in India some 2 million years ago. Scientists have so far not been able to account for an evolutionary gap of as much as 12 million years since the appearance of Ramapithecus.

The people of India belong to different anthropological stocks.  According to Dr. B. S. Guha, the population of India is derived from six main ethnic groups:

(1) Negritos:

The Negritos or the brachycephalic (broad headed) from Africa were the earliest people to inhabit India. They are survived in their original habitat in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The JarewasOnges, Sentelenese and Great Andamanis tribes are the examples. Studies have indicated that the Onges tribes have been living in the Andamans for the last 60,000 years. Some hill tribes like IrulasKodarsPaniyans and Kurumbas are found only in patches among the hills of south India on the mainland.


(2) Pro-Australoids or Austrics:

This group was the next to come to India after the Negritos.  They represent a race of people, with wavy hair plentifully distributed over their brown bodies, long heads with low foreheads and prominent eye ridges, noses with low and broad roots, thick jaws, large palates and teeth and small chins.  Austrics tribes, which are spread over the whole of India, Myanmar and the islands of South East Asia, are said to  "form the bedrock of the people".  The Austrics were the main builders of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They cultivated rice and vegetables and made sugar from sugarcane. Their language has survived in the Kol or Munda  (Mundari) in Eastern and Central India.


(3) Mongoloids:

These people have features that are common to those of the people of Mongolia, China and Tibet.  These tribal groups are located in the Northeastern part of India in states like Assam, Nagaland and Meghalya and also in Ladakh and Sikkim. Generally, they are people of yellow complexion, oblique eyes, high cheekbones, sparse hair and medium height.


(4) Mediterranean or Dravidian:

This group came to India from the Southwest Asia and appear to be people of the same stock as the peoples of Asia Minor and Crete and the pre-Hellenic Aegeans of Greece. They are reputed to have built up the city civilization of the Indus Valley, whose remains have been found at Mohenjodaro and Harappa and other Indus cities.

The Dravidians must have spread to the whole of India, supplanting Austrics and Negritos alike. Dravidians comprise all the three subtypes, Paleo-Mediterranean, the true Mediterranean and Oriental Mediterranean. This group constitutes the bulk of the scheduled castes in the North India. This group has a sub-type called Oriental group.


(5) Western Brachycephals:

These include the Alpinoids,Dinaries and Armenois. The Coorgis and Parsis fall into this category.



Nordics or Indo-Aryans are the last immigrants into India. Nordic Aryans were a branch of Indo-Iranians, who had originally left their homes in Central Asia, some 5000 years ago, and had settled in Mesopotamia for some centuries. The Aryans must have come into India between 2000 and 1500 BC. Their first home in India was western and northern Punjab, from where they spread to the Valley of the Ganga and beyond. These tribes are now mainly found in the Northwest and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). Many of these tribes belong to the "upper castes".




..........Siwalik specimens once assigned to the genus Ramapithecus are now considered by most researchers to belong to one or more species of SivapithecusRamapithecus is no longer regarded as a likely ancestor of humans.

The first incomplete specimens of Ramapithecus were found in Nepal on the bank of Tenau River western part of the country in 1932. The finder (G. Edward Lewis) claimed that the jaw was more like a human's than any other fossil ape then known. In the 1960s this claim was revived. At that time, it was believed that the ancestors of humans had diverged from other apes 15 million years ago. Biochemical studies upset this view, suggesting that there was an early split between orangutan ancestors and the common ancestors of chimps, gorillas and humans.

Meanwhile, more complete specimens of Ramapithecus were found in 1975 and 1976, which showed that it was less human-like than had been thought. It began to look more and more like Sivapithecus - meaning that the older name must take priority. It could be that Ramapithecus was just the female form of Sivapithecus.They were definitely members of the same genus. It is also likely that they were already separate from the common ancestor of chimps, gorillas and humans, though fossils of this presumed ancestor have not yet been found.


1. The Dravidian type in the larger section of the peninsula which lies to the south of the United Provinces and east of about longitude 76°E. “The stature is short or below mean; the complexion very dark, approaching black; hair plentiful, with an occasional tendency to curl; eyes dark; head long; nose very broad, sometimes depressed at the root, but not so as to make the face appear flat”.

This was assumed by Risley to be the original type of the population of India, now modified to a varying extent by the admixture of Aryan, Scythian, and Mongoloid elements. It must be remembered, however, that, when the term Dravidian is thus used ethnographically, it is nothing more than a convenient label.

It must not be assumed that the speakers of the Dravidian languages are aborigines. In Southern India, as in the North, the same general distinction exists between the more primitive tribes of the hills and jungles and the civilized inhabitants of the fertile tracts; and some ethnologists hold that the difference is racial and not merely the result of culture. Mr. Thurston, for instance, says:

“It is the Pre-Dravidian aborigines, and not the later and more cultured Dravidians, who must be regarded as the primitive existing race.... These Pre­Dravidians are differentiated from the Dravidian classes by their short stature and broad noses. There is strong ground for the belief that the Pre­Dravidians are ethnically related to the Veddas of Ceylon, the Toalas of the Celebes, the Batin of Sumatra, and possibly the Australians”.

It would seem probable, then, that the original speakers of the Dravidian languages were invaders, and that the ethnographical Dravidians are a mixed race. In the more habitable regions the two elements have fused, while representatives of the aborigines are still to be found in the fastnesses to which they retired before the encroachments of the newcomers. If this view be correct, we must suppose that these aborigines have, in the course of long ages, lost their ancient languages and adopted those of their conquerors. The process of linguistic transformation, which may still be observed in other parts of India, would seem to have been carried out more completely in the South than elsewhere.

The theory that the Dravidian element is the most ancient which we can discover in the population of Northern India, must also be modified by what we now know of the Munda languages, the Indian representatives of the Austric family of speech, and the mixed languages in which their influence has been traced. Here, according to the evidence now available, it would seem that the Austric element is the oldest, and that it has been overlaid in different regions by successive waves of Dravidian and Indo-European on the one hand, and by Tibeto-Chinese on the other. Most ethnologists hold that there is no difference in physical type between the present speakers of Munda and Dravidian languages. This statement has been called in question; but, if it be true, it shows that racial conditions have become so complicated that it is no longer possible to analyze their constituents. Language alone has preserved a record which would otherwise have been lost.

At the same time, there can be little doubt that Dravidian languages were actually flourishing in the western regions of Northern India at the period when languages of the Indo-European type were introduced by the Aryan invasions from the north-west. Dravidian characteristics have been traced alike in Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, in the Prakrits or early popular dialects, and in the modern vernaculars derived from them. The linguistic strata would thus appear to be arranged in the order—Austric, Dravidian, Indo-European.

There is good ground, then, for supposing that, before the coming of the Indo-Aryans, speakers of the Dravidian languages predominated both in Northern and in Southern India; but, as we have seen, older elements are discoverable in the populations of both regions, and therefore the assumption that the Dravidians are aboriginal is no longer tenable. Is there any evidence to show whence they came into India?

No theory of their origin can be maintained which does not account for the existence of Brahui, the large island of Dravidian speech in the mountainous regions of distant Baluchistan which lie near the western routes into India. Is Brahui a surviving trace of the immigration of Dravidian-speaking peoples into India from the west? Or does it mark the limits of an overflow from India into Baluchistan? Both theories have been held; but, as all the great movements of peoples have been into India and not out of India, and as a remote mountainous district may be expected to retain the survivals of ancient races while it is not likely to have been colonized, the former view would a priori seem to be by far the more probable. The reasons why it has not been universally accepted is that the racial character of the Brahuis is now mainly Iranian, and not Dravidian in the Indian sense of the term. But the argument from race is not so conclusive as may appear at first sight. The area in which the Dravidian Brahui is still spoken forms part of the region which is occupied by Turko-Iranian peoples; and the peculiar tribal constitution of the Brahuis is one which, unlike the caste-system, does not insist on social exclusiveness, but, on the contrary, definitely invites recruitment from outside. This is clear from the account given in the Gazetteer of the Baloch and Brahui type of tribe:

“The second type of Turko-Iranian tribe is based primarily not upon agnatic kinship, but upon common good and ill: in other words, it is cemented together only by the obligations arising from the blood-feud. There is no eponymous ancestor, and the tribe itself does not profess to be composed of homogeneous elements ... The same principles hold good in the ease of the Brahui ... whose numbers have been recruited from among Afghans, Kurds, Jadgals, Baloch, and other elements”.

Such circumstances must necessarily change the racial character of the tribe by a gradual process which might well in the course of ages lead to a complete transformation. There is therefore nothing in the existing racial conditions, and equally nothing in the existing physical conditions, to prevent us from believing that the survival of a Dravidian language in Baluchistan must indicate that the Dravidians came into India through Baluchistan in prehistoric times. Whether they are ultimately to be traced to a Central Asian or to a Western Asian origin cannot at present be decided with absolute certainty ; but the latter hypothesis receives very strong support from the undoubted similarity of the Sumerian and Dravidian ethnic types.


2. The Indo-Aryan type in Kashmir, the Punjab from the Indus to about the longitude of Ambala (76°46' E.), and Rajputana. “The stature is mostly tall; complexion fair; eyes dark; hair on face plentiful; head long; nose narrow and prominent, but not specially long”.

The region now occupied by peoples of this type forms the eastern portion of the wide extent of territory inhabited by Aryan settlers in the earliest historical times—the period of the Rigveda, probably about 1200 BC. Their oldest literature, which is in a language closely connected with ancient Persian, Greek, and Latin, supplies no certain indication that they still retained the recollection of their former home; and we may reasonably conclude, therefore, that the invasions, which brought them into India, took place at a date considerably earlier.

The Indo-Aryans came from Bactria, over the passes of the Hindu Kush into S. Afghanistan, and thence by the valleys of the Kabul river, the Kurram, and the Gumal—all of them rivers well known to the poets of the Rig-Veda—into the N.W. Frontier Province and the Punjab. In the age of the Rigveda they formed five peoples, each consisting of a number of tribes in which the women were of the same race as their husbands. This is proved conclusively by their social and religious status. We may be certain, therefore, that the invasions were no mere incursions of armies, but gradual progressive movements of whole tribes, such as would have been impossible at a later date, when climatic causes had transformed the physical conditions of the country. On this point the evidence of literature receives the support of ethnology; for only thus, according to Risley, can be explained the uniform distribution of the Indo-Aryan racial type throughout the region which it occupies, and the strongly marked contrasts which it presents to types prevailing in regions to the east and south. Later settlements necessarily consisted almost entirely of men. Such modifications of the racial character as would be produced by intermarriage with the women of the country would, in the course of time, cease to be recognizable. They would be as difficult to trace as the Roman factor in the population of Britain.

3. The Turko-Iranian type in the N.W. Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and those districts of the Punjab and Sind which lie west of the Indus. “Stature above mean; complexion fair; eyes mostly dark, but occasionally grey; hair on face plentiful; head broad; nose moderately narrow, prominent, and very long”.

The northern section of the region now inhabited by peoples of this type, that is to say, the country of the north-western tributaries of the Indus, was, in the times of the Rig-Veda, occupied by Indo­Aryans. The predominant racial character of the whole region is due to the invasion of Mongolo-Altaic peoples from Turkestan on the one hand, and of Persian Aryans or Iranians on the other. The Indus is the ethnographical boundary between the Turko-Iranian and Indo-Aryan types, just as in history it has often been the political boundary between Iran and India.

4. The Scytho-Dravidian type in Sind east of the Indus, Gujarat, and the western section of the peninsula as far as about longitude 76° E., that is to say, the Bombay Presidency or Western India generally. The type is clearly distinguished from the Turko-Iranian by a lower stature, a greater length of head, a higher nasal index, a shorter nose, and a lower orbito-nasal index.

This type, of which the Marathas are the chief representatives, occupies a position between the broad-headed Turko-Iranians and the long-headed Dravidians. Its designation assumes that the foreign broad-headed element was introduced during the period of Scythian (Chaka) rule in Western India (c. 120-380 AD). But there can be little doubt that its origin must be traced to a period far more remote. The Chakas were among those military conquerors who broke into the Punjab after the downfall of the Maurya Empire; and it can scarcely be supposed that the extension of their power to Western India materially affected the race. The fact that their Scythian names, as is shown by coins and inscriptions, became Hinduized after a few generations, is conclusive proof that they were forced to adapt themselves to their social environment. We must therefore seek the disturbing racial influence in some earlier tribal immigration of which no other memorial now remains. The invaders probably belonged to the broad-headed Alpine race which inhabited the plateaus of Western Asia (Anatolia, Armenia, and Iran); and they would seem to have come into Western India, as the Dravidians also most probably came, through Baluchistan before desiccation had made the routes impassable for multitudes.

5. The Aryo-Dravidian or Hindustani type in the plain of the Ganges from about longitude 76° 30' E. to 87° E. ; that is to say, in the eastern fringe of the Punjab, in the United Provinces, and in Bihar. “The head-form is long, with a tendency to medium; the complexion varies from lightish brown to black; the nose ranges from medium to broad, being always broader than among the Indo-Aryans; the stature is lower than in the latter group, and usually below the average' (i.e. it ranges from 5' 3" to 5' 5")”.

The Aryo-Dravidian type occupies the ancient Madhyadeça, or the Midland Country, extending, according to Manu from Vinaçana, where the river Sarasvati loses itself in the Great Desert, to Allahabad, together with some five degrees of the country farther east. It is a mixed type caused apparently by the Indo-Aryan colonization of a region previously held by a population mainly Dravidian. The Indo-Aryan type does not, as might have been expected from analogous instances, shade by imperceptible degrees into the Aryo-Dravidian type; but a marked change from the former to the latter is observable about the longitude of Sirhind. It is evident, then, that the waves of tribal migration must have been impeded at this point, and that the Indo-Aryan influence farther east must be due rather to warlike or peaceful penetration than to the wholesale encroachment of multitudes.

To explain this abrupt transition, the theory of a second Aryan invasion, which is supposed to have come into the plain of the Ganges from the Pamirs through Gilgit and Chitral, was propounded by the late Dr Hoernle and has been generally accepted in the official publications of the Government of India. This theory is made improbable by the physical difficulties of the route suggested, and some of the arguments adduced in its favor are demonstrably mistaken. There is no such break of continuity between the tribes of the Rig-Veda and the peoples of the later literature as it presupposes. At the same time it seemed to be supported by the existing distribution of the Indo-Aryan languages; but, as will be seen, an equally satisfactory explanation of this distribution may be suggested.

Apart from this theory, the conclusions of ethnology are entirely in accord with the historical indications of the literature. The ethnographical limit is also the dividing line between the geography of the Rig-Veda and the geography of the later Vedic literature. In the Rig-Veda Aryan communities have scarcely advanced beyond the country of the river Sarasvati (Sirhind), which for ever afterwards was remembered with especial veneration as Brahmavarta, the Holy Land. In the Brahmanas the centre of religious activity has been transferred to the adjacent country on the south­east, i.e. the upper portion of the doab between the Jumna and the Ganges, and the Muttra District of the United Provinces. This was Brahmarshideca—the Country of the Holy Sages. Here it was that the hymns of the Rig-Veda, which were composed in the North­West—the country of the “Seven Rivers” as it is called—were collected and arranged; and here it was that the religious and social system which we call Brahmanism assumed its final form—a form which, in its religious aspect, is a compromise between Aryan and more primitive Indian ideas, and, in its social aspect, the result of the contact of different races. After Brahman culture had thus occupied what has in all ages been the commanding position in India, its trend was still eastwards; and the country of the Seven Rivers, though not altogether forgotten, occupies a place of less importance in the later literature.

Both of the facts above mentioned—the abrupt transition from the Indo-Aryan to the Aryo-Dravidian type, and the extension of Aryan influence from Brahmavarta to Brahmarshideça—are best understood if we remember the natural feature which connects the plain of the Indus with the plain of the Ganges. This is the strait of habitable land which lies between the desert and the mountains. Its historical significance has already been noticed. It is in this strait that the decisive battles, on which the fate of India has depended, have been fought; and here too we may suppose that the progress of racial migrations from the north-west in prehistoric times must have been checked. Both politically and ethnographically it forms a natural boundary. In the age of the Rig-Veda the Aryans had not yet broken through the barrier, though the Jumna is mentioned in a hymn in such a way as to indicate that a battle had been won on its banks. It was only at some later date that the country between the Upper Jumna and Ganges and the district of Delhi were occupied. A record of this occupation has been preserved in some ancient verses quoted in the Chatapatha Brahmana which refer to the triumphs celebrated by Bharata Dauhshanti after his victories on the Jumna and the Ganges, and to the extent of his conquests. In their new home the Bharatas, who were settled in the country of the Sarasvati in the times of the Rig-Veda, were merged in the Kurus; and their whole territory, the new together with the old, became famous in history under the name Kurukshetra—the Field of the Kurus. This was the scene of the great war of the descendants of Bharata Dauhshanti, and the centre from which Indo-Aryan culture spread, first throughout Hindustan, and eventually throughout the whole sub-continent. The epoch of Indo-Aryan tribal migration was definitely closed. It was succeeded by the epoch of Judo-Aryan colonization.

Mongoloids and Mongolo-Dravidians

6. The Mongoloid type in Burma, Assam, and the sub-Himalayan tract which includes Bhutan, Nepal, and the fringe of the United Provinces, the Punjab, and Kashmir. “The head is broad; complexion dark, with a yellowish tinge; hair on face scanty; stature short or below average; nose fine to broad; face characteristically flat; eyelids often oblique”.

The term Mongoloid denotes the racial type which has been produced by the invasion of peoples of the Southern Mongolian race from Tibet and China. We have already seen how these peoples have from time immemorial been coming down the river valleys into Burma and Northern India; and we shall learn more about them, and about the earlier inhabitants with whom they intermingled, when we consider the evidence of language.

7. The Mongolo-Dravidian or Bengali type in Bengal and Orissa. “The head is broad; complexion dark; hair on face usually plentiful; stature medium; nose medium, with a tendency to broad”.

This type is regarded as probably a blend of Dravidian and Mongoloid elements, with a strain of Indo-Aryan blood in the higher groups. The region in which it prevails lay beyond the geographical ken of the earlier literature. It comes into view first in the later literature (the epics and Puranas) when it was occupied by a number of peoples among whom the Vangas (from whom Bengal has inherited its name) and the Kalingas of Orissa were the chief. On the north-west it is separated from the Aryo-Dravidian area by what is now also the political dividing-line between Bihar and Bengal. In regard to this limit, as marking the extent of Indo-Aryan influence at an early date, ethnology and literature are fully in agreement. In the Atharvaveda the Magadhas of the Patna and Gaya Districts, and the Angas of the Monghyr and Bhagalpur Districts in Southern Bihar, are mentioned in a manner which indicates that they were among the most distant of known peoples; while a legend in the Chatapatha Brahmana preserves the memory of the spread of Brahmanism from the west into Videha, or Tirhut in Northern Bihar. The traces of Indo-Aryan descent, which have been observed in the higher social grades of Bengal and Orissa, must be due to colonization at a later date.

On the south-west the Mongolo-Dravidians are separated from the Dravidians by the north-eastern apex of the plateau of the Deccan, where, in the Santal Parganas and the Chota Nagpur Division, hills and forests have preserved a large group of primitive tribes, some of whom continue to speak dialects of the oldest form of language known in India.

It is here that we find the Munda languages, which, like the Mon-Khmer languages of Assam and Burma, are surviving representatives of the Austric family of speech, the most widely diffused on earth. It has been traced from Easter Island off the coast of South America in the east to Madagascar in the west, and from New Zealand in the  south to the Punjab in the north.

 The Munda languages are scattered far and wide. They are found not only in the Santal Parganas and Chota Nagpur, but also in the Mahadeo Hills of the Central Provinces, and in the northern districts of the Madras Presidency; and they form the basis of a number of mixed languages which make a chain along the Himalayan fringe from the Punjab to Bengal.

The Mon-Khmer languages are similarly dispersed. They survive in the Khasi Hills of Assam, in certain hilly tracts of Upper Burma, in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Martaban in Lower Burma, in the Nicobar Islands, and in some parts of the Malay Peninsula.

Thus Austric languages, which still flourish in Annam and Cambodia, remain in India and Burma as islands of speech to preserve the record of a far distant period when Northern India (possibly Southern India also) and Farther India belonged to the same linguistic area. And there is some evidence that they shared the same culture in neolithic times; for the “chisel-shaped, high-shouldered celts” are specially characteristic of these regions. There can be little doubt that the Indian and Burmese tribes who speak Austric languages are descended from the neolithic peoples who made these celts. We may regard them as representing the earliest population concerning which we possess any definite information. Other tribes may have an equal claim to antiquity; but they have abandoned their ancestral speech and adopted that of their more recent and more progressive neighbors. Their title is consequently less clear.

Invasions from the east, some of them historical, have brought into the ancient domain of Austric speech languages belonging to two branches of the Tibeto-Chinese family—the Tibeto-Burman and the Siamese-Chinese. Tibeto-Burman has occupied the western half of Burma, where it is represented by Burmese, and the sub-Himalayan fringe of India; while Siamese-Chinese has prevailed in the Shan States of eastern Burma. The influence of each has, at different periods, extended to Assam, where at the present day both have given place to Assamese, an Aryan language closely related to Bengali.

In the same way the Austric languages have been submerged by successive floods of Dravidian and Indo-European from the west and north-west. Dravidian languages, with the exception of Brahui, are now confined to the peninsula south of the Vindhyas and to Ceylon; but it is supposed that, at the period of the Aryan invasions, they prevailed also in the north. This inference is derived from the change which Indo-European underwent after its introduction into India, and which can only be explained as the result of some older disturbing element. The oldest form of Indo-Aryan, the language of the Rig-Veda, is distinguished from the oldest form of Iranian, the language of the Avesta, chiefly by the presence of a second series of dental letters, the so-called cerebrals. These play an increasingly important part in the development of Indo-Aryan in its subsequent phases. They are foreign to Indo-European languages generally, and they are characteristic of Dravidian. We may conclude, then, that the earlier forms of speech, by which Indo-European was modified in the various stages of its progress from the north-west, were predominantly Dravidian.

At the present time Dravidian languages are stable only in the countries of the south where they have developed great literatures like Tamil, Malayalam, Kanarese, and Telugu. In the northern borders of the Dravidian sphere of influence, the spoken languages which have not been stereotyped by literature are, as each succeeding Report of the Census of India shows, still continuing to retreat before the onward progress of Indo-Aryan. The process, as it may be observed at the present day in India as elsewhere, has been admirably described by Sir George Grierson, whose observations are most valuable as explaining generally the manner in which the language of a more progressive civilization tends to grow at the expense of its less efficient rivals:

“When an Aryan tongue comes into contact with an uncivilized aboriginal one, it is invariably the latter which goes to the wall. The Aryan does not attempt to speak it, and the necessities of intercourse compel the aborigine to use a broken pigeon form of the language of a superior civilization. As generations pass this mixed jargon more and more approximates to its model, and in process of time the old aboriginal language is forgotten and dies a natural death. At the present day, in ethnic borderlands, we see this transformation still going on, and can watch it in all stages of its progress. It is only in the south of India, where aboriginal languages are associated with a high degree of culture, that they have held their own. The reverse process, of an Aryan tongue being superseded by an aboriginal one never occurs”.

But the advancing type does not remain unaffected. Each stage in its progress must always bear traces of the compromise between the new and the old; and, as each recently converted area tends in its turn to carry the change a step farther, the result is that the influence of the progressive language is modified in an increasing degree. Thus is produced a series of varieties, which through the development of their peculiar features become in course of time distinct species differing from the original type and from each other in accordance with their position in the series.

We are thus furnished with a satisfactory explanation of the distribution of the Indo-Aryan languages. As classified by the Linguistic Survey they radiate from a central area occupied by the Midland languages, the chief representative of which is Western Hindi. In the north of this area lay the country of the Kurus and Panchalas where, according to the Chatapatha Brahmapa speech, i.e. Brahman speech, had its home. This is the centre from which the spread of Brahmanism and Brahman culture may be traced historically. From it the language of the Brahman scriptures extended with the religion and became eventually the sacred language of the whole sub-continent; from it the influence of the Aryan type of speech was diffused in all directions, receiving a check only in the south where the Dravidian languages were firmly established.

Indo-Aryan Languages 

Immediately outside the languages of the Midland come those of the Inner Band—Punjabi, Rajasthani and Gujarati on the west, Pahari on the north, and Eastern Hindi on the east; and beyond them the languages of the Outer Band—Kashmiri, Lahnda, Sindhi, and Kacchi on the west, Marathi on the south-west, and Bihari, Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya on the east.

The Indo-Aryan languages have now extended very considerably to the south of Aryavarta, the Region of the Aryans, as defined by Manu the country between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. Orthodox Brahmanism, as represented by Manu, directed that all members of the 'twice-born' social orders, Brahmans, Kshatriyas, and Vaiçyas, should resort to this region, and enjoined that every man of these orders should be instructed in his religious and social duties by a Brahman belonging to one of the peoples of Brahmarshideça (Kurus, Matsyas, Panchalas, and Kurasenas). These, as we have seen, inhabited the northern portion of the Midland linguistic area. If we follow the course of the Jumna-Ganges we shall pass from the languages of the Midland through those of the Inner and Outer Bands, and we shall pass from Brahmarshideca through Kosala (Oudh), Videha (N. Bihar) and Vanga (Bengal), which mark successive stages in the spread of Brahmanism to the eastern limit of Aryavarta as they are reflected in the literature.

It is not so easy to trace the relations between Brahmarshideça and the earlier Aryan settlements in the laud of the Seven Rivers. It is possible that further invasions of which no record has been preserved may have disturbed both political and linguistic conditions in the North-West. We know nothing certain about the fate of this region until the latter half of the sixth century BC, when Gandhara (Peshawar in the N.W. Frontier Province and Rawalpindi in the Punjab) together with the province of the Indus-India properly so called, were included in the Persian empire of the Achaemenids.

The base from which this Persian power expanded into India was Bactria (Balkh), the country of the Oxus, which in the reign of Cyrus (558-530 BC) had become the eastern stronghold of Iran. From Bactria the armies of the Achaemenids, like those of Alexander and many subsequent conquerors, and like the invading tribes of Indo-Aryans many centuries before, passed over the Hindu Kush and through the valley of the Kabul river into the country of the Indus.

Speakers of the two great sections of Aryan languages, Iranians and Indo-Aryans, were thus brought into contact; and as a result of some such contact, whether at this period or at some earlier date, we find a group of mixed languages still surviving where they might be expected, in the transitional zone between the Hindu Kush and the Punjab, that is to say, in the Kabul valley, Chitral, and Gilgit. These Piçacha languages, as they are called, were once more widely spread: the Greek forms of place-names, for instance, seem to show that they prevailed in N.W. India in the fourth century BC; but at the present time they are merely an enclave in the Iranian and Indo-Aryan domains.

“They possess an extraordinarily archaic character. Words are still in every­day use which are almost identical with the forms they assumed in Vedic hymns, and which now survive only in a much corrupted state in the plains of India. In their essence these languages are neither Iranian nor Indo-Aryan, but are something between both”.

The most natural explanation of these mixed languages is that they are ancient Aryan (Vedic) dialects which have been overlaid with Iranian as the result of later invasion. The districts in which they are spoken were certainly colonized by the early Aryan settlers, for both the Kabul river (Kubha) and its tributary the Swat (Suvastu) are mentioned in the hymns of the Rig-Veda.

The contrary view, expressed in the Imperial Gazetteer, viz. that the Piçacha languages are the result of an Aryan invasion of a region originally Iranian, seems to be less probable. It presupposes the existence of an early settlement of Aryans in the Pamirs, distinct from the Aryans proper, who had entered the Punjab by the valley of the Kabul, and is thus bound up with the hypothesis of a second wave of Aryan immigration.

Beyond the Pishacha languages on the north, and beyond the Outer Indo-Aryan Band on the west, Iranian forms of speech prevail. The most important of these, so far as they are represented within the limits of the Indian Empire, are the Pashto of Afghanistan, the name of which preserves the memory of the Herodotus mentioned by Herodotus, and Baloch, the main language of Baluchistan.

The diversity of speech in the Indian Empire, like the diversity of race, is naturally explained as the result of invasions from Western and Further Asia. Such invasions belong to a period which was only brought to a close by the establishment of the British dominion. The power which has succeeded in welding all the subordinate ruling powers into one great system of government is essentially naval; and since it controls the sea-ways, it has been forced, in the interests of security, to close the land-ways. This has been the object of British policy in regard to the countries which lie on the frontiers of the Indian Empire—Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and Burma. Political isolation has thus followed as a necessary consequence of political unity. But it must be remembered that this political isolation is a recent and an entirely novel feature in the history of India. It is the great landmark which separates the present from the past.

Social Institutions 

Man has completed the work which nature had begun; for, as we have seen, climatic changes had for ages past been making access into India more and more difficult. The era of tribal migration had long ago come to an end, and had been succeeded by the era of conquest. All through history down to the period of British rule we see one foreign power after another breaking through the north-western gateway, and the strongest of these winning the suzerainty over India. But the result in all cases was little more than a change of rulers—the deposition of one dominant caste and the substitution of another. The lives of the common people, their social conditions and systems of local government, were barely affected by such conquests. Indian institutions have therefore a long unbroken history which makes their study especially valuable.

The chief distinguishing feature of Indian society at the present day is the caste-system, the origin and growth of which may be traced from an early period. It now divides the great majority of the inhabitants of Northern and Southern India into hundreds of self-contained social groups, i.e. castes and sub-castes. A man is obliged to marry outside his family, but within the caste, and usually within the sub-caste, to which his family belongs. A family consists of persons reputed to be descended from a common ancestor, and between whom marriage is prohibited. It is the exogamous social unit. A collection of such units constitutes a sub-caste or caste.

“A caste may, therefore, be defined as an endogamous group or collection of such groups bearing a common name and having the same traditional occupation, who are so linked together by these and other ties, such as the tradition of a common origin and the possession of the same tutelary deity, and the same social status, ceremonial observances and family priests, that they regard themselves, and are regarded by others, as forming a single homogeneous community”.

The institution is essentially Brahmanical, and it has spread with the spread of Brahmanism. It either does not exist, or exists only in an imperfect state of development, in countries where Buddhism has triumphed, such as Burma and Ceylon. It would indeed appear to rest ultimately on two doctrines which are distinctively Brahmanical—the doctrine of the religious unity of the family, which is symbolized by the offerings made to deceased ancestors, and the doctrine of sva-karma, which lays on every man the obligation to do his duty in that state of life in which he has been born.

The orthodox Hindu holds that the caste-system is of divine appointment and that it has existed for all time. But the sacred books themselves, when they are studied historically, supply evidence both of its origin and of its growth. The poets of the Rig-Veda know nothing of caste in the later and stricter sense of the word; but they recognize that there are divers orders of men, the priests (Brahma or Brahmana), the nobles (Rajanya or Kshatriya), the tillers of the soil (Viç or Vaiçya), and the servile classes (Çudra). Between the first three and the fourth there is a great gulf fixed. The former are conquering Aryans: the latter are subject Dasyus. The difference between them is one of colour (varna): the Aryans are collectively known as “the light colour”, and the Dasyus as “the dark colour”. So far, there was nothing peculiar in the social conditions of North-Western India during the early Vedic period. The broad distinction between conquerors and conquered, and the growth of social orders are indeed universal and inevitable. But, while in other countries the barriers which man has thus set up for himself have been weakened or even entirely swept away by the tide of progress, in India they have remained firmly fixed. In India human institutions have received the sanction of a religion which has been concerned more with the preservation of social order than with the advancement of mankind.

Before the end of the period covered by the hymns of the Rig-Veda a belief in the divine origin of the four orders of men was fully established; but there is nowhere in the Rig-Veda any indication of the castes into which these orders were afterwards sub­divided. The word “colour” is still used in its literal sense. There are as yet only two varnas, the light and the dark. But in the next period, the period of the Yajurveda and the Brahmanas, the term denotes “a social order” independently of any actual distinction of color, and we hear for the first time of mixed varnas, the offspring of parents belonging to different social orders.

It is to such mixed marriages that the law-books attribute the origin of the castes strictly so-called. To some extent the theory is undoubtedly correct. Descent is a chief factor, but not the only factor, involved in the formation of caste, the growth of which may still in the twentieth century be traced in the Reports of the decennial Census. Primitive tribes who become Hinduized, communities who are drawn together by the same sectarian beliefs or by the same occupation, all tend to form castes. Tribal connection, religion, and occupation therefore combine with descent to consolidate social groups and, at the same time, to keep these social groups apart.

The caste-system is, as we have seen, a distinctive product of Brahmanism, a code which regards the family, and not the congregation, as the religious unit. And so strong did this social system become that it has affected all the other religions. The most probable explanation of the very remarkable disappearance of Buddhism from the greater part of the sub-continent, where it was once so widely extended, is that Buddhism has been gradually absorbed into the Brahman caste-system, which has also, though in a less degree, influenced the followers of other faiths—Jains, Muhammadans, Sikhs, and even native Christians. We must conclude, then, that the caste-system has accompanied the spread of Brahmanism from its first stronghold in the country of the Upper Jumna and Ganges into other regions of Northern India and finally into Southern India; and we must expect to find its complete record only in Brahman literature. Caste must naturally be less perfectly reflected in the literature of other faiths.

Neglect of these fundamental considerations has led to much discrepancy among writers on the early social history of India. Students of the Brahman books have asserted that the caste-system existed substantially in the time of the Yajurveda (say 1000-800 BC): students of the Buddhist books have emphatically declared that no traces of the system in its later sense are to be detected in the age of Buddha (c. 563-483 BC). Both parties have forgotten that they were dealing with different regions of Northern India—the former with the country of the Kurus and Panchalas, the home of Brahmanism (the Delhi Division of the Punjab with the north-western Divisions of the Province of Agra), the latter with Kosala and Videha, the home of Buddhism (Oudh and N. Bihar). They have forgotten, too, that the records, on which they depend for their statements, are utterly distinct in character. On the one hand, the Brahman books are permeated with social ideas which formed the very foundation of their religion: on the other hand, the Buddhist books regard any connection between social status and religion as accidental rather than essential.






The caste-system is the outcome of a long process of social differentiation to which the initial impulse was given by the introduction of a higher civilization into regions occupied by peoples in a lower stage of culture. The Aryan settlers, as represented by the sacrificial hymns of the Rig-Veda, were both intellectually and materially advanced. Their language, their religion, and their social institutions were of the Indo-European type like those of the ancient Persians of the Avesta and the Greeks of the Homeric poems; and they were skilled in the arts and in the working of metals.

The prehistoric archaeology of India has not attracted the attention which it deserves, and many interesting problems connected with the earlier cultures and their relation to the culture of the Rig-Veda remain to be solved; but there is a general agreement as to the succession of cultural strata in Northern and Southern India. The discoveries of ancient implements seem to prove that in the North the Stone Age is separated from the Iron Age by a Copper Age; while in the South no such transitional stage has been observed—implements of stone are followed without a break by implements of iron. Bronze, it appears, is not found anywhere in India before the Iron Age. If these facts may be held to be established, we must conclude that the chief metal of the Rig-Veda, ayas (Latin aes), was copper; and the absence of a Copper Age in Southern India would seem to indicate that the earlier inhabitants generally were still in the Stone Age at the time when the Aryans brought with them the use of copper. Iron was probably not known in the age of the Rig-Veda; but it undoubtedly occurs in the period immediately following when it is known to the Yajur-Veda and Atharva-Veda or “black copper”. Its use was introduced by Indo-Aryan colonization into Southern India where the Stone Age of culture still prevailed.

Described in its simplest terms, the earliest history of India is the story of the struggle between two widely different types of civilization, an unequal contest between metal and stone. All the records for many centuries belong to the higher type. They are exclusively Indo-Aryan. They have been preserved in literary languages developed from the predominant spoken languages under the influence of the different phases of religion which mark stages in the advance of Indo-Aryan culture from the North-West. The language of the Rig-Veda, the oldest form of Vedic Sanskrit, belongs to the country of the Seven Rivers. The language of the Brahmanas and of the later Vedic literature in the country of the Upper Jumna and Ganges (Brahmarshideça) is transitional. It shades almost imperceptibly into Classical Sanskrit, which is the literary representation of the accepted form of educated speech of the time and region. As fixed by the rules of the grammarians it became the standard language of Brahman culture in every part of India; and it is still the ordinary medium of communication between learned men, as was Latin in the Middle Ages of Europe.

The Literatures of India 

In the sixth century BC, after Indo-Aryan influence had penetrated eastwards beyond the limits of the Middle Country, there arose in Oudh (Kosala) and Bihar (Videha and Magadha) a number of religious reactions against the sacerdotalism and the social exclusiveness of Brahmanism. The two most important of these, Jainism and Buddhism, survived; and, as they extended from the region of their origin, they everywhere gave an impulse to the formation of literary languages from the Prakrits or spoken dialects. The scriptures of the Jains have been preserved in various forms of Magadha, the dialect of Bihar, Cauraseni, the dialect of Muttra, and Maharashtra, the dialect of the Maratha country. The Buddhist canon exists in two chief forms—in Pali, the literary form of an Indo-Aryan Prakrit, in Ceylon; and in Sanskrit in Nepal. Pali Buddhism has spread to Burma and Siam. The Sanskrit version of the canon has, in various translations, prevailed in Tibet, China, Japan, Mongolia, Chinese Turkestan, and other countries of the Far East.

In all the large and varied literatures of the Brahmans, Jains, and Buddhists there is not to be found a single work which can be compared to the Histories in which Herodotus recounts the struggle between the Greeks and Persians, or to the Annals in which Livy traces the growth and progress of the Roman power. But this is not because the peoples of India had no history. We know from other sources that the ages were filled with stirring events; but these events found no systematic record. Of the great foreign invasions of Darius, Alexander the Great, and Seleucus no mention is to be discovered in any Indian work. The struggles between native princes, the rise and fall of empires, have indeed not passed similarly into utter oblivion. Their memory is to some extent preserved in epic poems, in stories of the sages and heroes of old, in genealogies and dynastic lists. Such in all countries are the beginnings of history; and in ancient India its development was not carried beyond this rudimentary stage. The explanation of this arrested progress must be sought in a state of society which, as in medieval Europe, tended to restrict intellectual activity to the religious orders. Literatures controlled by Brahmans, or by Jain and Buddhist monks, must naturally represent systems of faith rather than nationalities. They must deal with thought rather than with action, with ideas rather than with events. And in fact, as sources for the history of religion and philosophy, and for the growth of law and social institutions, and for the development of those sciences which, like grammar, depend on the minute and careful observation of facts, they stand among the literatures of the ancient world unequalled in their fullness and their continuity. But as records of political progress they are deficient. By their aid alone it would be impossible to sketch the outline of the political history of any of the nations of India before the Muhammadan conquest. Fortunately two other sources of information—foreign accounts of India and the monuments of India (especially the inscriptions and coins)—supply to some extent this deficiency of the literatures, and furnish a chronological framework for the history of certain periods.

The foreign authorities naturally belong to those periods in which India was brought most closely into contact with the civilizations of Western Asia and China. The general fact that such intercourse by land and sea existed in very early times is undoubted, but detailed authentic records of political relations are not found before the rise of the Persian Empire in the sixth century BC, when Greek writers and the cuneiform inscriptions of Darius enable us to trace the extension of the Persian power from Bactria, the country of the Oxus, to N.W. India. From these sources it is clear that the Persian dominions included Gandhara (the Districts of Peshawar and Rawal Pindi) and the Province of India (the Western Punjab together with Sind which still retains its ancient name); and it is probable that these countries remained tributary to the King of Kings until the Persian Empire gave place to the Macedonian.

The Greek writers

Then come the Greek and Roman historians of Alexander the Great, whose detailed accounts of the Indian campaign (327-325 BC) throw a flood of light on the political conditions of N.W. India, and carry our geographical knowledge eastwards beyond the Jhelum (Hydaspes), the eastern limit of Gandhara, to the Beas (Hyphasis). This marks the extent of Alexander's conquests. Far from securing the dominant position of Northern India, the country of the upper Jumna and Ganges, these conquests failed even to reach the country of the Sarasvati, the centre of Indo­Aryan civilization in the age of the Rig-Veda. Alexander was the conqueror of India only in the sense that for a very few years he was master of the country of the Indus. The confusion of this geographical term with its later meaning has been the cause of endless misconception all through the Middle Ages even down to the present day.

The documents of the Persian and Macedonian Empires are succeeded by those of the later Hellenic kingdoms of Syria, Bactria, and Parthia. All these are invaluable as supplying a very remarkable deficiency in the Indian records. They deal with a region which is barely noticed, and with events which are completely ignored, in the Brahman, Jain, and Buddhist books of the period. These two sources of history are thus independent of each other. The Greek view is mainly confined to the North-West, while the contemporary Indian literatures belong almost exclusively to the Plain of the Ganges.

After the death of Alexander other Western writers appear who regard India from the point of view of the Maurya Empire with its capital at Pataliputra, the modern Patna. The generation which saw Alexander had not passed away before the kingdom of Magadha (S. Bihar) had brought all the peoples of Northern India under its sway, and established a great power which maintained relations with Alexander's successors in Western Asia, Egypt, and Europe. And now for the first time the two kinds of historical evidence, the Indian and the foreign, come into direct relations with each other. They refer to the same regions and to the same circumstances; and the light of Greek history is thrown on the obscurity of Indian literature. It was the identification of the Sandrocottus of Greek writers with the Maurya Emperor Chandragupta that established the first fixed point in the chronology of ancient India. Our object in the first two volumes of this History will be to show how far the progress of research starting from this fixed point has succeeded hitherto in recovering the forgotten history of India from the records of the past.

Unimpeded intercourse with the countries of the West was possible only so long as Northern India remained united under the Maurya dynasty, and Western Asia under the Seleucid successors of Alexander. The process of disintegration began in Western Asia with the defection of Bactria and Parthia about the middle of the third century, and in India probably some thirty years later when the downfall of imperial rule was followed by a period of anarchy and internal strife. These conditions made possible the series of foreign invasions from c. 200 BC onwards, which disturbed the North-West during many centuries and severed that region from the ancient civilization of the Plain of the Ganges. The political isolation of India was completed by the Scythian conquest of Bactria, c. 135 BC, and by the long struggle between Rome and Parthia which began in 53 BC. After the Maurya Empire, intercourse tended more and more to be restricted to commerce by land and sea; and for the West, India became more and more the land of mystery and fabulous wealth. Down to the last quarter of the eighteenth century nearly all that was known of its ancient history was derived from the early Greek and Latin writers.

Of all the factors which contributed to the severance of relations with the West, the extinction of Hellenic civilization in Bactria was by far the most important. But while the fate of Bactria closed the western outlook, it prepared the way for communication with the Far East; and it is to Chinese authorities that we must turn for the most trustworthy information concerning the events which determined the history of N.W. India during the following centuries. The Scythian (Çaka) invaders of Bactria were succeeded by the Yueh-chi; and when, in the first century A.D., the predominant tribe of the Yueh-chi, the Kushanas, extended their dominion in Turkestan and Bactria to N.W. India, the Kushana empire formed a connecting link between China and India and provided the means of an intercourse which was fruitful in results. Buddhism was introduced into China and the other countries of the Far East; and, as the explorations of recent years have shown, an Indian culture, Indian languages, and the Indian alphabets were established in Chinese Turkestan. The most illuminating accounts of India from the end of the fourth to the end of the seventh century are the records of Chinese Buddhists who made the long and toilsome pilgrimage to the scenes of their Master's life and labours.

Coins and inscriptions

The remaining source of historical information—the inscribed monuments and coins—is the most productive of all. The inscriptions are public or private records engraved in most cases on stone or on copper plates; and they are found in great numbers throughout the sub-continent and in Ceylon. The earliest are the edicts of Asoka incised on rocks or pillars situated on the frontiers and at important centres of the Maurya empire when at the height of its power in the middle of the third century BC. Others commemorate the deposit of Buddhist relics. Others celebrate the victories of princes, the extent of their conquests, the glories of the founder of the dynasty and of his successors on the throne. Others again place on record the endowments of temples or grants of land. In short, there is scarcely any conceivable topic of public or private interest which is not represented. The inscriptions supply most valuable evidence as to the political, social, and economic conditions of the period and the country to which they belong. They testify on the one hand to the restless activity of a military caste, and on the other to the stability of institutions, which were, as a rule, unaffected by military conquest. One conqueror follows another, but the administration of each individual state remains unchanged either under the same prince or under some other member of his family, and the charters of monasteries are renewed as a matter of course by each new overlord.

Coins also have preserved the names and titles of kings who have left no other record; and by their aid it is sometimes possible to reconstruct the dynastic lists and to determine the chronology and the geographical extent of ruling powers. But it is only when coin-legends appear as the result of Greek influence in the North-West that this source of history becomes available. The earlier indigenous coinage was little more than a system of weights of silver or copper stamped with the marks of the monetary authorities. The first Indian king whose name occurs on a coin is Sophytes (Saubhati), a contemporary of Alexander the Great. The legend of his coins is in Greek. After his date no inscribed coins are found for more than a hundred years. During this interval Greek rule in N.W. India had ceased. It was resumed about the beginning of the second century by Alexander's Bactrian successors, who issued in their Indian dominions a bilingual coinage with Greek legends on the obverse and a translation of these in an Indian dialect and an Indian alphabet on the reverse.

The fashion of a bilingual coinage thus instituted was continued by the Scythian and Parthian invaders from Iran in the early part of the first century BC; and these bilingual coins have supplied the clue to the interpretation of the ancient alphabets, and have enabled scholars during the last three generations to bring to light the long-hidden secrets of the inscriptions and to retrace the outlines of forgotten history.

Both of the alphabets, now usually known as Brahmi and Kharoshthi, are of Semitic origin; that is to say, they are derived ultimately from the same source as the European alphabets. They were introduced into India at different periods, and probably by different routes. Brahmi is found throughout the sub-continent and in Ceylon. The home of Kharoshthi is in the North-West; and whenever it is found elsewhere it has been imported.

Brahmi has been traced back to the Phoenician type of writing represented by the inscription in which Mesha, king of Moab (c. 850, BC), records his successful revolt against the kingdom of Israel. It was probably brought into India through Mesopotamia, as a result of the early commerce by sea between Babylon and the ports of Western India. It is the parent of all the modern Indian alphabets.

Kharoshthi is derived from the Aramaic script, which was introduced into India in the sixth century BC, when the North­West was under Persian rule, and when Aramaic was used as a common means of communication for the purposes of government throughout the Persian empire. That originally the Aramaic language and alphabet pure and simple were thus imported into Gandhara, as Bühler conjectured in 1895, has been proved recently by Sir John Marshall's discovery of an Aramaic inscription at Taxila. When the first Kharoshthi inscriptions appear in the third century BC, the alphabet has been adapted to express the additional sounds required by an Indian language; but, unlike Brahmi which has been more highly elaborated, it still bears evident traces of its Semitic origin both in its direction from right to left and in its imperfect representation of the vowels. In the third century AD Kharoshthi appears more fully developed in Chinese Turkestan where its existence must be attributed to the Kushana empire. In this region, as in India, it was eventually superseded by Brahmi.

The Study of Sanskrit 

The decipherment of the inscriptions and coins, and the determination of the eras in which many of them are dated, have introduced into the obscurity of early Indian history a degree of chronological order which could not have been conceived at the time when the study of Sanskrit began in Europe. The bare fact that India possessed ancient classical literatures like those of Greece and Rome can scarcely be said to have been known to the Western World before the last quarter of the eighteenth century. At various intervals during more than a hundred years previously a few isolated students chiefly missionaries, those pioneers of learning, had indeed published accounts of Sanskrit literature and Sanskrit grammar; but it was only when a practical need made itself felt, and the serious attention of the administrators of the East India Company's possessions was directed to the importance of studying Sanskrit, that the investigation by Europeans of the ancient languages and literatures of India began in earnest. To meet the requirements of the law-courts the Governor-General, Warren Hastings, had ordered a digest to be prepared by pandits from the authoritative Sanskrit law-books; but when the work was finished no one could be found able to translate it into English. It was therefore necessary to have it translated first into Persian, and from the Persian an English version was made and published by Halhed in 1776. The object-lesson was not lost. Sanskrit was evidently of practical utility; and the East India Company adopted, and never afterwards neglected to pursue, the enlightened policy of promoting the study of the ancient languages and literatures in which the traditions of its subjects were enshrined. It remained for Sir William Jones, Judge of the High Court at Calcutta, to place this study on a firm basis by the establishment of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784.

The inauguration of the study of India's past history came at a fortunate moment; for it is precisely to the last quarter of the eighteenth century that we may trace the growth of the modern scientific spirit of investigation, which may be defined as the recognition of the fact that no object and no idea stands alone by itself as an isolated phenomenon. All objects and all ideas form links in a series; and therefore it follows that nowhere, whether in the realm of nature or in the sphere of human activity, can the present be understood without reference to the past. The first manifestation of this new spirit of enquiry, which was soon to transform all learning, was seen in the study of language. The first Western students of the ancient languages of India were statesmen and scholars who had been educated in the classical literatures of ancient Greece and Rome. They were impressed by the fact, which must indeed be apparent to everyone who opens a Sanskrit grammar, that Sanskrit, both in its vocabulary and in its inflexions, presents a striking similarity to Greek and Latin. This observation immediately raised the question: How is this similarity to be explained? The true answer was suggested by Sir William Jones, whom that sagacious observer, Dr Johnson, recognized as one of the most enlightened of the sons of men. In 1786, Sir William Jones wrote:

“The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either: yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which perhaps no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family”.

These observations contain the germs of the science of Comparative Philology. The conception of a family of languages, in which all the individual languages and dialects are related as descendants from a common ancestor, suggested the application to language of the historical and comparative method of investigation. The results have been as remarkable as they were unexpected. In the first place, the historical method has shown that living languages grow and change in accordance with certain definite laws, while the comparative study of the lines of development which may be traced historically in the different Indo-European languages has confirmed Sir William Jones's hypothesis that they are all derived from some common source, which, though it no longer exists, may be restored hypothetically. In the second place, since words preserve the record both of material objects and of ideas, a study of vocabularies enables us to gain some knowledge of the state of civilization, the social institutions, and the religious beliefs of the speakers of the different languages before the period of literary records. Some indication of the light which Comparative Philology thus throws on the history of the Aryan invaders of India is given in the following Chapter.